It was a bit surprising when Jaguar recently let us loose in Limo Green, the XJ hybrid prototype it’s built in partnership with MIRA, Caparo and Lotus — with funding from the government’s Technology Strategy Board.
Usually when so many competing interests are involved, it’s hard for hacks to get near experimental projects because the bright light of publicity doesn’t suit at least one of the partners, and the rest have to respect it.
But we pitched up at Gaydon, and after a briefing we set out with engineer Steve Nicholls on a nice little driving route through the Warwickshire countryside.
The best thing about it from the driving point of view is that there’s nothing unusual about the car. It drives very much like a real one. The powertrain could hardly more different than a hefty front-mounted petrol or diesel engine: Limo Green is a pure, battery-driven car with a back-to-front Lotus-designed 1.2-litre 60bhp, three-cylinder petrol engine mounted in the nose to drive a generator when the battery starts to run out of power.
There are a few clunks and clicks from various switches and the experimental two-speed — soon to be three-speed — gearbox but you can easily see how the car has the capability to be every bit as quiet and smooth riding as the normal model, with much the same steering feel and brake response.
If anything, hybrid Jags have the potential to be quieter even than present production cars, which presents Nicholls & Co with another problem, the need to chase new noises (wheel bearing, pumps, generators) revealed by the lack of a V6 or V8 up front.
I was most interested to see what the car was like when the petrol engine started (in town it hardly needs to). This is the Jag-Lotus-MIRA-Caparo consortium’s equivalent of the new GM Ampera, and though we’ve driven those in battery mode, we’ve never heard what engineers call the “transition” as the petrol engine starts.
It was an anti-climax. The partners reckon it can be much more refined, but even as it was, it was barely audible to passengers in the back, and hardly a problem for those closer. With proper NVH work, it can be practically silent.
Best of all, here is a car whose creators estimate a whole-life CO2 output of 50g/km (current diesel figure 184 g/km), plus an engine-on range north of 600 miles at 50mph-plus.
It proves one thing above all. Luxury cars — even 16-footers weighing nearly 1800 kilograms like the Jag — have a decent future.